Dubai, Jan 3 (AP/UNB) — Saudi Arabia announced on Thursday it will seek the death penalty against five suspects in the slaying of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a killing that has seen members of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's entourage implicated in the writer's assassination.
Prosecutors announced that 11 suspects in the slaying attended their first court hearing with lawyers, but the statement did not name those in court. It also did not explain why seven other suspects arrested over the Oct. 2 killing at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul did not immediately face formal charges. The kingdom previously announced 18 people had been arrested.
Saudi officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The killing of Khashoggi, who wrote columns critical of Prince Mohammed, has strained the decades-long ties the kingdom enjoys with the United States. It also has added to a renewed international push to end the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
The state-run Saudi Press Agency and state television gave few details about the hearing.
"The Public Prosecutor demanded imposing proper punishments against the defendants and is seeking capital punishment for five of the defendants for their direct involvement in the murder," a statement from prosecutors said, without elaborating.
The suspects requested copies of the indictments they faced, as well as asked for more time to prepare for their case, prosecutors said.
While vague on details about the case, prosecutors made a point to express concerns about Turkey. They alleged that Turkish officials did not answer two formal requests made for evidence in the case.
"To date, the Saudi Public Prosecutor has not received any response, and the Public Prosecution is still awaiting their response," the statement said.
Officials in Ankara could not be immediately reached for comment. Turkish officials have previously said they shared evidence with Saudi Arabia and other nations over Khashoggi's killing.
Turkey also has demanded Saudi Arabia extradite those 18 suspects to be tried there for Khashoggi's killing. Turkish security officials have kept up a slow leak of videos, photographs and morbid details surrounding Khashoggi's slaying to pressure the kingdom, as the two U.S.-allied countries vie for influence over the wider Mideast.
Turkish media have published photographs of members of the crown prince's entourage at the consulate in Istanbul ahead of the slaying. Khashoggi's body, believed to have been dismembered after his killing, has yet to be found.
Khashoggi, 59, entered the consulate Oct. 2 as his fiancée waited outside. But unbeknownst to him, a team of Saudi officials had flown in before his arrival and laid in wait for him.
Saudi Arabia denied for weeks that Khashoggi had been killed but later changed its story and ultimately acknowledged the brutal slaying. King Salman ordered the restructuring of the country's intelligence service, but has so far shielded Prince Mohammed, his 33-year-old son who is next in line to the throne in the oil giant kingdom.
All that has not has not stopped widespread international criticism against the kingdom. Under Prince Mohammed, Saudi Arabia has seen the arrest of business leaders, royals and activists while also recently granting women the right to drive.
U.S. senators in December passed the measure that blamed the prince for Khashoggi's killing and called on Riyadh to "ensure appropriate accountability." Senators also passed a separate measure calling for the end of U.S. aid to the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Both measures drew angry responses from the kingdom, but a renewed international effort has begun to end the Yemen war.
It is no surprise that the kingdom would seek to execute those accused in Khashoggi's slaying. Saudi Arabia was the world's third top executioner in 2017, behind China and Iran, according to Amnesty International's most recent figures available.
The kingdom executed at least 146 people, according to the group. It regularly beheads those condemned to death and last year said it "crucified" a Myanmar man, an execution in which the condemned is usually beheaded and then the body put on display, arms outstretched as if crucified.
Lodi, Dec 30 (AP/UNB) — The father of a 2-year-old boy who was separated from his Yemeni mother until she successfully fought the Trump administration's travel ban to see him in the United States laid his body to rest Saturday, a day after the child was taken off life support at a hospital.
Under a cloudless winter day, Ali Hassan carried his son's small body to bury at an Islamic cemetery in California's Central Valley.
"I'm a U.S. citizen; my son is a U.S. citizen," the 22-year-old father told mourners at a service before burial. "The Muslim ban kept my wife from coming to the U.S. for over a year. It forced me to choose between my son's health and keeping our family together. We are angry, but we know our son did not die in vain."
The child's distraught mother mourned privately at home.
Abdullah Hassan died Friday at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital in Oakland, where his father brought him in the fall to get treatment for a degenerative brain condition. He had been on life support when his 21-year-old mother, Shaima Swileh, arrived last week.
Hassan spent his youth in California's central valley after his family immigrated there from Yemen. During a trip to the warn-torn country in 2016, he fell in love with Swileh and married her that same year.
Because she is Yemeni, Swileh was restricted from traveling to the United States under the White House travel ban that's keeping citizens from Yemen and four other mostly Muslim countries from entering the country.
The family stayed in Cairo, Egypt, while Swileh tried to obtain a waiver to that ban, which would allow her a visa to travel with her family to the United States to receive medical treatment for the boy. But she was repeatedly denied travel documents, Hassan said.
When Abdullah's health worsened, Hassan went ahead to California in October to get their son help. As the couple fought for a waiver, doctors put Abdullah on life support.
"My wife is calling me every day wanting to kiss and hold her son for the one last time," said Hassan, choking up at a news conference earlier this month.
He started losing hope and was considering pulling his son off life support to end his suffering. But then a hospital social worker reached out to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which sued on Dec. 16, said Basim Elkarra, executive director of the advocacy group in Sacramento.
The State Department granted Swileh a waiver the next day, and she has since received a visa to stay in the country.
She was pictured cradling her son in the hospital 10 days ago.
"With their courage, this family has inspired our nation to confront the realities of Donald Trump's Muslim Ban," said Saad Sweilem, a lawyer with the council who represents the family. "In his short life, Abdullah has been a guiding light for all of us in the fight against xenophobia and family separation."
Hassan said he hopes his family's struggle will lead to policy changes and families like his will not have to separate.
Beirut, Dec 29 (AP/UNB) — Syria's military said Friday it had entered the key Kurdish-held town of Manbij in an apparent deal with the Kurds, who are looking for new allies and protection against a threatened Turkish offensive as U.S. troops prepare to leave Syria.
Turkey and American troops patrolling the town denied there was any change of forces in the contested area, contradicting the Syrians and highlighting the potential for chaos in the wake of last week's surprise pronouncement by the United States that it was withdrawing its troops.
Since the U.S. announcement, forces have been building up around Manbij and further east, ushering in new alliances and raising the chances for friction. The Kurds' invitation to Syrian troops shows they'd rather let Syria's Russian- and Iranian-backed government fill the void left by the Americans, than face the prospect of being overwhelmed by their top rival Turkey.
Meanwhile, a flurry of meetings is expected in the coming days as all sides of the conflict scramble to find ways to replace the departing U.S. troops. They include one Saturday in Moscow, where Russia will host top Turkish officials in a possible sign that the two sides could be working on a deal to avert a Turkish offensive into Syria. Russians officials have said they expect Syrian government troops to replace the U.S. troops when they withdraw.
Turkey considers the U.S.-backed Kurdish People's Protection Units, which now controls nearly 30 percent of Syria, a terrorist group linked to an insurgency within its own borders. Kurdish-controlled Manbij has been at the center of rising tension between the U.S. and Turkey.
There were conflicting reports Friday on the location of the Syrian troops, who said they had moved into Manbij and raised the Syrian flag in the town. The Kurdish militia said it has invited the Syrian government to take control of Manbij to protect it against "a Turkish invasion."
But a Kurdish official said the government deployment has so far been limited to the front line with Turkey-backed fighters, based north and west Manbij. And U.S. officials in Washington said Syrian regime forces and some Russian forces had moved a bit closer to the city and were largely south or southwest of the city. The officials spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to discuss the troop movements publicly.
The U.S.-led coalition said the announcement that government troops had entered the town was "incorrect," and called "on everyone to respect the integrity of Manbij and the safety of its citizens."
Russia and Iran, meanwhile, welcomed the Syrian announcement. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called it a "positive step" that could help stabilize the area. Iran hailed it as a "major step toward establishing the government's authority" over all of Syria. Russia has signaled it expects the Syrian government to deploy where U.S. forces leave.
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the Syrian government move was "a psychological act," and the situation in Manbij was uncertain. He spoke as Turkey-allied forces in Syria said they were fortifying their front line positions ahead of the possible military offensive.
But Erdogan also noted that his country's goal is to oust the Kurdish militia from along his country's borders. "If terror organizations leave, then there is no work left for us anyway," Erdogan told reporters.
In Washington, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who broke with U.S. President Donald Trump on his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, tweeted that reports about the Kurds aligning with Assad were a "major disaster in the making." Graham, a leading voice on foreign policy and national security issues in Congress, warned the development would be a "nightmare for Turkey and eventually Israel." Graham tweeted that the "big winners" are Russia, Iran, Assad and Islamic State militants.
National Security Adviser John Bolton is expected in Turkey after the new year.
Friday's announcement by the Syrian military comes as Turkey and allied Syrian fighters have been sending in reinforcement to the front lines and threatening an offensive to dislodge the Kurdish forces. In response, the U.S. first warned against unilateral action and increased patrols and observation points in northeastern Syria.
Then, in a surprise move, Trump announced he was withdrawing troops from eastern Syria. He later said the withdrawal would be coordinated with Turkey.
The decision has left America's Syrian Kurdish partners in a conundrum. With no backing from the U.S., the Kurdish forces looked to new allies to protect their Kurdish-administered areas. Partners since 2014, the U.S-led forces and the Kurdish group have liberated most of east Syria from Islamic State militants.
Ilham Ahmed, a senior Kurdish official, said an agreement is being worked out between the Russians and the Syrian government. She said the U.S. troops have not yet withdrawn from Manbij, but said Syrian troops would take over once U.S. withdrawal is complete.
"The aim is to ward off a Turkish offensive," Ahmed said. "If the Turks' excuse is the (Kurdish militia), they will leave their posts to the government."
The Syrian government has said it welcomes the Kurdish group returning to areas under its authority. But government officials have stated they will not accept an autonomous area, a main demand for the Kurds.
The Syrian military declaration came shortly after the Kurds invited the government to seize control of Manbij to prevent a Turkish attack.
Pro-state Syrian al-Ikhbariya TV aired footage from inside Manbij of commercial streets on a rainy day, but didn't show any troops. It carried images of a military convoy driving late at night, purportedly to Manbij.
A timetable for the U.S. withdrawal has not yet been made public.
Rio De Janeiro, Dec 29 (AP/UNB) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened the first visit to Brazil by a leader of Israel on Friday, saying he hopes for a strong partnership between the two countries.
Netanyahu came for President-elect Jair Bolsonaro's inauguration Jan. 1, but arrived several days early in Rio de Janeiro to meet with the incoming far-right leader and several other top members of the new administration.
The two men's first interaction was at lunch in Copacabana Fort. They then visited a local synagogue.
"Through our mutual cooperation, enormous benefits will be created for our two peoples," Netanyahu said following their meeting.
Bolsonaro said he wants to increase economic and security bonds between Brazil and Israel. "More than partners, we will be brothers," he said.
Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, will be staying in Rio until Tuesday, when they will fly to Brasilia for the inauguration. The prime minister is expected to also meet with other foreign delegations attending the ceremony, including U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pomeo.
Brazil and Israel have previously had cordial but strained relations.
The leftist Workers Party, which had dominated Brazilian politics for 13 years before Bolsonaro's election, often showed support for the Palestinian independence movement. But Bolsonaro and Netanyahu have developed an increasingly warm relationship with similar views on security issues.
Netanyahu announced his trip to Brazil following a Nov. 1 tweet from Bolsonaro indicating he intends to move the Brazilian Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The move angered several Arab states, which threatened to boycott halal meat from Brazil, the world's top exporter.
In preparation for his tenure as president, Bolsonaro has sent aides to Israel to study desalination technology and to investigate the potential purchase of drones for use by Brazilian security forces.
Dubai, Dec 28 (AP/UNB) — Saudi Arabia's King Salman issued a wide-ranging overhaul of top government posts on Thursday, including naming a new foreign minister, following international fallout from the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi nearly three months ago.
He also ordered a shakeup of the kingdom's supreme council that oversees matters related to security. The council is headed by the king's son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose powers including roles as deputy prime minister and defense minister, were untouched in the overhaul.
The changes appear to further consolidate the crown prince's grip on power by appointing to key posts advisers and members of the royal family seen as close to him.
It may also signal further efforts to show that changes are being made after the U.S. Senate passed a resolution saying it believes the crown prince is to blame for Khashoggi's grisly murder inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
As the crown prince struggles to convince many in Washington and other Western capitals that he had nothing to do with Khashoggi's killing, the soft-spoken Adel al-Jubeir was replaced as foreign minister by Ibrahim al-Assaf, a longtime former finance minister. Al-Jubeir was appointed to minister of state for foreign affairs at the Foreign Ministry.
Al-Assaf is well known to international investors, having led several Saudi delegations to the World Economic Forum in Davos. He served as finance minister under King Fahd and King Abdullah.
Al-Assaf sits on the boards of oil-giant Saudi Aramco and the kingdom's sovereign wealth fund. The crown prince oversees both entities. He holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Colorado State University and a master's degree from the University of Denver, according to his biography on Aramco's website.
Al-Assaf had been serving as a minister of state last year when he was reportedly detained at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh along with dozens of high-ranking officials and princes in an anti-corruption sweep led by the crown prince. Shortly after, al-Assaf appeared back at a Cabinet meeting to the surprise of many.
The government did not name those detained nor disclose what crimes they were suspected of committing. The Associated Press could not independently confirm reports of al-Assaf's arrest. The opaque anti-corruption sweep helped Prince Mohammed consolidate power and net the government more than $13 billion in settlements.
The changes announced Thursday include aides to the crown prince, including Musaed al-Aiban as national security adviser — in addition to other positions he holds — and former media minister Awwad al-Awwad as adviser to the royal court. Khalid al-Harbi was named as head of general security.
Turki al-Sheikh, a confidant of the crown prince, was removed as head of the Sports Authority and replaced by Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki al-Faisal. This means al-Sheikh no longer oversees a cybersecurity and programming body that was led by Saud al-Qahtani, a close aide to the crown prince who was fired from his post and sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department for helping to mastermind the plot that led to Khashoggi's killing.
Khashoggi wrote critically of the crown prince in columns for The Washington Post before he was killed. After denying any knowledge of Khashoggi's death for weeks, Saudi authorities eventually settled on the explanation that he was killed in an operation masterminded by former advisers to Prince Mohammed. The kingdom denies the crown prince had any involvement.
Al-Sheikh will now lead the General Entertainment Authority, a body created in recent years to help organize and promote concerts and other events that had long been banned in the conservative country.
Turki Shabbaneh, who has held positions in privately owned Saudi TV channels, was named minister of media. Hamad al-Sheikh, a royal court adviser and former college dean who studied in the U.S., was appointed minister of education.
The king's eldest son, Prince Sultan bin Salman, was removed as head of the tourism authority. He will lead a new national space agency. In 1985, he became the first Arab and Muslim astronaut to fly in space.
Prince Abdullah bin Bandar was named head of the National Guard. The force is tasked primarily with the protection of the Al Saud ruling family. Prince Abdullah had been deputy governor of Mecca.